Emojis: the secret to success or a reputation risk?

Let’s face it: it’s funny when someone sends an emoji that makes absolutely no sense or is just totally wrong (dad, I’m talking about you). And while it brings a moment of laughter to the family group chat, we move on to the next blunder pretty quickly.

But the same can’t be said when a brand mucks up. Once it’s on the internet, it’s there for good (even if you think you’ve been quick enough to remove it, someone’s always got a sneaky screenshot). And Brands2Life research shows one in four people would consider stopping buying from a brand if its use of emojis wasn’t inclusive.

So, it’s not enough for brands to think only about the words they use, they need to consider the impact of visual language too. And this spans everything from the way employees hold themselves during panel discussions, to the images posted online, right the way through to the emojis chosen on social media.

They’re just cute images, what’s the big deal?

Although emojis add another layer to online content – bringing in a sense of brand personality – there’s room for interpretation. If you aren’t clued up on the list of potential interpretations, you could open your brand up to critique and even damage its reputation.

In the real world, this results in people ripping your brand online – just like the recent flood of responses to the UK government Conservatives, after announcing the cabinet reshuffle. Each announcement was coupled with playful emojis, such as the fire, flexed biceps and clapping emojis. The problem is this choice is grossly ill-aligned with the Tory party’s brand. So, it wasn’t really a surprise when feedback started rolling in like, “You’re the government, not the Sugababes”, with press commenting “But what do you expect from a party that struggles to run a country, never mind a social media account?” Such a simple faux pas that brought with it an opportunity for people to poke fun and paint the party as a joke.

If you’re thinking, well of course people are going to find any opportunity to mock the government, there really isn’t anyone who’s exempt… not even Taylor Swift.

After replying to a social post with the full circle emoji, people were quick to label her cringe: “No one in history has ever used the full circle emoji”, “the circle emoji I’m crying”. While this isn’t enough to irreparably damage T-Swizzle’s reputation, it shows no person or brand can fly under the emoji radar. So, it really does matter which emojis your business chooses to use.

We’ve got to look beyond our own homes

I’m sorry to say, but here’s where things get even trickier. Because you can’t only think about the market you’re in or your own age demographic, you’ve got to think about the holistic impact.

Emojis read differently across generations, genders and locations.

Take Gen-Z, who find the laughing crying emoji embarrassing – opting for the skull emoji to show when something’s funny. And although many know the aubergine emoji is used for anything but to depict an actual aubergine, that doesn’t stop unsuspecting people using it alongside their latest online recipe.

While these examples are on the funnier side, there are some real implications behind using the wrong emoji. Pictures are worth a thousand words; you’ve got to know who you’re speaking to, to make sure they understand your intended meaning. Just like the peace hand emoji – while it means just that in the UK, in some locations it’s the same as putting up your middle finger.

So, are emojis worth it?

There seem to be a lot of reasons not to use emojis, right? But, the thing is, they’re a fundamental part of communications. They’re embedded into the way we speak online – and with the emoji language constantly evolving, they aren’t going anywhere.

Not to mention all the benefits they bring. Emojis help us convey tone in a more impactful (and shorter) way than words alone can; they’re excellent for adding a personal touch, helping to capture audience attention, and building that all-important connection. That’s why emojis are an essential part of your brand’s social strategy.

The trick is learning how to speak emoji as the language evolves, so you don’t welcome unwanted attention. This is especially clear from the Brands2Life team’s recent research. It found one in four people would consider stopping buying from a brand if it inappropriately used emojis on social media. So, you literally can’t afford to not consider how you use emojis. Plus, it uncovered that 41% of people think the use of an unprofessional or insensitive emoji on social can damage a brand’s reputation. And in a world where reputation means A LOT, that could result in a huge reputation risk.

The good news is if you want to understand where your business’ emoji use currently stands, my team are offering a complementary emoji health check. Drop me an email at [email protected] if you’d like to hear more.